This Singapore startup is using insects to turn trash into treasure

1st September, 2021.      //   General Interest  // 

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Singapore-based farmer Chua Kai-Ning spends lots of her day ensuring that her animals are well fed and growing fast.

But she’s no ordinary farmer, and these aren’t ordinary animals.
Chua and her partner, Phua Jun Wei, founded startup Insectta in 2017. they’re battling Singapore’s scraps crisis with the assistance of an unlikely ally: the black soldier fly larva.

“The concept behind Insectta is that nothing goes to waste,” said Chua. “Waste may be reimagined as a resource if we alter how we predict about our production methods, and the way we house waste.”
In 2020, Singapore generated 665,000 metric heaps of refuse — only 19% of which was recycled.

Chua said the corporate feeds the black soldier fly maggots up to eight a lot of waste material per month, including byproducts received from soybean factories and breweries, like okara and spent grain.

Insectta can then flash dry the maggots into animal feed, and switch the insects’ excrement into agricultural fertilizer.
While there are many companies using insects to manage waste, including Goterra, Better Origin and AgriProtein, Insectta is extracting over agricultural products from black soldier flies. With funding from Trendlines Agrifood Fund and government grants, Insectta is procuring high-value biomaterials from the byproducts of those larvae.

“During R&D, we realized that lots of precious biomaterials that have already got value will be extracted from these flies,” Chua told CNN Business. The startup hopes its biomaterials can revolutionize the growing insect-based product industry and alter the way we glance at waste.

 

Bugs to biomaterials
As the maggots grow into adults, they form a cocoon, emerging about 10 to 14 days later as a fully-grown fly. Insectta has developed proprietary technology to get biomaterials from the exoskeleton they leave behind.

One of these biomaterials is chitosan, an antimicrobial substance with antioxidant properties sometimes employed in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. Insectta aims to eventually produce 500 kilograms of chitosan every day and is now collaborating with Singapore-based Spa Esprit Group for the employment of its chitosan in its moisturizers.
Insectta is additionally collaborating with mask brand Vi-Mask, which hopes to use black soldier fly chitosan to create an antimicrobial layer within its products.

Currently, Vi-Mask uses chitosan from crab shells within the lining of its face masks. the corporate says that the switch to insect-based chitosan is an environmentally friendly move, as Insectta’s chitosan is more sustainably sourced.

A more sustainable source
At present, crab shells are one in all the first sources for chitosan, per Thomas Hahn, a researcher with the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Germany.

Hahn has studied insect-based chitosan production with chemical engineer and biologist Susanne Zibek. per Zibek, chitosan could replace synthetic thickeners and preservatives in cosmetics.

Chitosan extraction from shellfish involves chemical processes and enormous amounts of water. Chua said that Insectta’s extraction techniques involve fewer chemicals, like caustic soda, than traditional extraction processes, making it a more sustainable alternative.

Zibek said the insect biomaterial market will grow as companies look to lower their environmental impact.

“There’s a change in consumer awareness, and other people want sustainable products,” she added. “We can support that by substituting synthetic products with chitosan.”

Overcoming the ‘gross factor’
To widen the marketplace for its black soldier fly materials, Insectta must challenge the stigma against insects.

“When people consider maggots, the primary thing they think is that they are gross and harmful to people,” Chua said. “By putting the advantages first, we will transform people’s ‘gross factor.'”

There is ongoing scientific debate about the consciousness of insects. But Phua said rearing black soldier flies is more humane and sustainable than rearing livestock, as insects need less water, energy and space to grow.

Rather than running its own farms, however, Insectta plans to sell eggs to local black soldier fly farms, and collect exoskeletons produced by these farms to then extract the biomaterials.

“We not only want insects to feed the globe,” Phua added, “we want insects to power the planet.”